Bring back the “Testimonies”!

Back in the “good old days” of pentecostalism, testimonies were common (i.e., an autobiographical story of how God had worked in a person’s life). At the Azusa Street revival testimonies were not only shared regularly by people in attendance, but they would also sometimes read letters during their meetings from people who had been inspired by the revival. The practice of sharing testimonies continued in many pentecostal churches. When I was a youth, we would sometimes even have whole services that were set aside to give people time to share their testimonies.

What happened to the testimonies? It is rare that I hear testimonies in services these days. The most likely time to hear them is during a baptismal service. I suppose in some churches, they are taking place in small groups instead of in the Sunday worship service. But even then, it depends on how the small group is structured.

Who cares if testimonies are gone? (or sparce.) I do! They can contribute to the life of the church in many ways. 1/ Testimonies encourage others in the church that they can do similar things with God’s help (e.g., share the Gospel with a neighbor). In a sense, testimonies make stories from the Bible a contemporary reality. 2/ Testimonies help people in the church realize that they are not alone in their struggles and that God can help them in their struggles too. 3/ Testimonies are a way that the congregation can disciple one another. For example, when one person testifies that God spoke to them in some way, other people start thinking, “Hey, maybe God might speak to me too.” It is one thing to hear a pastor tell such stories, but it is a whole different story when “a normal person” from the congregation shares such stories.

I suppose one reason that testimonies are less common in my own denomination is because many churches are concerned with having a professionally run service—things need to go smoothly. Testimonies can hinder that professionalism. Someone might talk for too long. Or, someone might just say something really strange and weird. Someone (I don’t remember who) once said that church is like a family reunion—we know that some relative(s) is going to say some things that will not be appropriate, but because they are part of the family, we still let them speak (most of the time :-)).

To deal with the concern of professionalism, quality control can happen with testimonies. For example, a pastor could invite people to share their testimonies with him regularly, and the pastor could invite a person to share her/his testimony with the congregation when the pastor felt it would be appropriate. Another way of having ‘quality control’ is by video recording (and editing) testimonies before services (this allows for time and content control). The key for success in both of the above is that the congregation needs to be encouraged to share their testimonies with the pastor (or someone) on a regular basis so that the pastor is aware of who she/he might invite to share with the congregation.

“I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds” (Psalm 73:28). “We will not hide them from their children; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done” (Psalm 78:4).

Any other thoughts on why testimonies aren’t as common these days or the place of testimonies in a worship service?

5 Comments

  1. Great thoughts Andrew – as well, early Pentecostals saw their testimonies as acts of prophetic speech – and as an ongoing experience of Peter’s application of Joel to the Pentecostal experience

  2. Andrew, I think you’ve outlined the primary reasons why testimonies are rarely seen in our churches these days. However, I also think that context plays a role as well. Urban settings may have witnessed a dramatic decline in testimony sharing, while rural churches still seem to use the practice of sharing more frequently. Maybe not to the same extent as in the past, but certainly more often than urban centres.

    During our Easter service at Evangel in Brantford, the pastor invited two people to share their story during his sermon. It was the first time in a very long time I’ve seen something like this, but it went over very well. And, it was quite refreshing.

    So, if proper controls are put into place, the art of sharing our stories can make a comeback. And, they should. Few things are more encourging than the hearing of a story.

  3. We have a time to share a testimony during almost every Sunday evening service / fellowship for the reasons that you mention.

    God is interested and works in our everyday life, not just the big exciting events. Why not learn to see and share about God’s working in our everyday lives?

  4. Excellent, Andrew. I could not agree more. You’d think we’d remember we did not start out as a movement of religious professionals, but many were just ordinary people touched by God. There are ways to deal with potential problems. So what if there are some bumps. Not having the life and vitality of real people’s stories causes all sorts of problems as well, like complacent congregations, and that is a MUCH bigger headache.

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